Warrant issued for arrest of refugee shipwreck captain

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The Independent Online

International warrants were issued yesterday for the arrest of the owner and the captain of the ship that was deliberately wrecked on the French coast at the weekend with 912 Kurdish refugees on board.

International warrants were issued yesterday for the arrest of the owner and the captain of the ship that was deliberately wrecked on the French coast at the weekend with 912 Kurdish refugees on board.

French police named the two men as Mohammed Ali Allala, the owner, and Abdulatif Hassan Zuhdi Sh'habek, the captain, both from Syria.

It remains unclear whether the shipwreck was planned or an act of panic after the vessel lost its way. The Iraqi Kurds on board are believed to have paid a total of about £2m for their passage at an average of £2,000 a head. At that price, the ageing, 880-tonne East Sea might have been judged expendable. French authorities fear that the shipwreck may have amounted to a "ram raid" on the coast which could set a precedent for other people-smuggling criminal gangs.

The East Sea was towed out to sea by the French Navy on Sunday and foundered several miles off the coast.

More than 100 of the shipwrecked Kurds demonstrated for improved living conditions yesterday at the abandoned military camp near Fréjus where they were taken by the French authorities after being rescued from the ship. The refugees complained that their huts and food were cold and that there were not enough blankets to go round. They were issued with more blankets and promised better food.

Daniel Canepa, prefect (senior government representative) of the Var département where the ship was wrecked said yesterday that all 912 refugees - including 300 children and many elderly people - were asking for political asylum "in Western Europe". He said they did not specify a particular country.

Under European Union common asylum rules, refugees must be dealt with in the country they first enter.

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